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The Birthday Dance - Friday, Dec. 20, 2019
Friday, Jul. 26, 2019 @ 6:23 pm
Climbing Trip: Part III
I pull all of my gear from my storage closet and spread it across the floor. I pick out items and check them off my packing list. A one-night backpacking trip. I pull apart my tent, and the groundsheet is missing. I pick up my phone to text Daniel to see if he has it, and then I put the phone down without messaging him. I sit in the middle of my living room floor and close my eyes. I bite off a fingernail and chew the skin until it bleeds. My heart hurts; I don’t like being home alone. This is just how it is; the groundsheet is lost.
I sometimes think about my separation from Daniel as if it were a house fire. The things that I didn’t take - the photos, the computer, the pottery, the pocketbooks - are gone. All of the photos that I took of wildflowers, of ethereal forest light, of my handmade pies: I let it all go. Will I every collect a copy of those photos? They tell the story of us. Is he looking back at them? Do I want to look back at them?
I finish packing my gear and find myself in the kitchen making a rhubarb apple crumble. Slicing apples, pressing the cold butter into the oats and sugar. Grating nutmeg over it all. Arranging it in an old Pyrex casserole dish. Sliding it into the oven. These practiced movements, the feel of cold butter against my fingertips, the aroma of nutmeg. Licking the butter and brown sugar mixture from my fingers. It’s calming; I feel like myself again, with dusty patches of flour on my t-shirt.
Russell arrives after swing dancing. He walks in the door, leans his road bike against my shoe closet, and kisses me softly and at length. It’s not even so much as kissing as just pressing our faces together. Hello. Eventually, he looks over my shoulder and comments on the crumble cooling on the counter. His skin is damp with sweat, his hair freshly cut.
There was an evening on our trip, when we were staying with his friend. One of the children, a curious and energetic girl, Athalia, creeps into the bedroom where I lay on the bed reading. She tucks in beside me, and we talk about sock-eating monsters and the forest and reading. She is wearing underpants and one sock. How rich my life is - in the same day, rappeling from a rock bluff at the top of the city, and then later, a child sitting in my lap while I read to her and press my nose into her silky hair.
In the following days, we travel between islands on ferries, climb on bluffs with raptors riding the thermals beside us. Bolts of lightning, rumbles of thunder, and mud under my fingernails. Blazing sun burnishing my shoulders an even golden hue. Nights tangled up together in a nest of sleeping bags and blankets. Everything coated with cedar, salt, and mineral dust.
I wedge my hands in a crack in the rock. I press my back against a basalt chimney and work my way up, inch by inch, my body shaking, verging on tears. Russell looks down from above and coaches my foot placement. I battle myself. I rest, wedged there against the damp rock. I gather myself and cry out and grunt my way out and into the sun. I slump on the top of the crag breathing heavily, my hands useless and tiny droplets of blood oozing from my knees and elbows.
“That was amazing to watch,” he says, “Your tenacity, your persistence. I knew that you would not give up.”
We take a water taxi out to an idyllic sand island off the coast. We strike out on our paddleboards and leisurely make our way along the shoreline. The water is clear and shallow, and we glide over extensive beds of sand dollars. A seal follows us and then silently swims up underneath us, twisting and turning in the water, its silver fur flashing in the sun. It looks up at me from below, and we hold eye contact. I hold my breath. The magic of this. I see every detail: its whiskers, the folds of skin that form its flippers, the dapples on its pelt. I dive into the water and gather a moon snail shell to take home as a souvenir.
One night we sit together on the shoreline sharing a bottle of wine, my hair still dripping from swimming in the ocean.
“This,” I say to him, “Is exactly how I wish to be living my life. There’s nothing that I want to be different; there’s nothing more that I need.”
“I agree,” he responds, “All of this is perfect.”
I am sick one night, a reaction to mussels. I should know better, but I ignored my body. I sit in the dark forest on the bench of the picnic table with my head between my legs, breathing rapidly. I am nauseous and disoriented. I can’t lie down. I can’t stand up. I just sit there and breathe, hoping for it all to pass.
He finds me there in the dark and asks what’s happening. He finds the keys and is asking if I need to go to the hospital. He is researching shellfish reactions on his phone, and he rummages around and hands me an antihistamine and a cup of water. He bundles me up and places me in bed, carefully taking off my sandals.
“If you need to throw up, don’t worry. I won’t be angry. Just let it out, even if you’re in bed.”
He rubs my back, and I can feel him watching me with concern. My breathing begins to subside as the antihistamine takes effect.
I open my eyes briefly. I look straight into his wide blue eyes. Intense energy penetrates me, his concern, his caring. I can see the worry on his brow, even in the dim light of the van. He reaches over and places his hand on my cheek and asks how I’m feeling.
It’s a gift to feel loved.
All of this is a gift.